From the Letter to the Ephesians:
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Ephesians 3:20-21 (NRSV) – January 19, 2013.)
Episcopalians who say the Daily Office are familiar with this text; a variation of it is one of the options for the Grace at the end of both Morning and Evening Prayer. Each time I recite those words at the end of the office, I am reminded how limited our imaginations are!
Yesterday, I wrote here about seeking ways to incorporate the cutting-edge practices of the “emerging church” into the life and ministry of the “inherited church”. I received one response which asked, “so there is no place for people who have grown up in the Church, then?” Of course there is, I replied. Something new is not a threat to that which is old, it is simply new. Are our imaginations are so limited that we cannot envision there being something new in the church without also thinking that means the loss of something old and valued? Are our churches and church structures so limited that they cannot encompass both old and new together?
We are bounded by our questions; our imaginations are limited by what we ask. It is not without good reason that St. Paul phrased this doxology to say that God can accomplish “more than we can ask or imagine.” What we ask limits what we can imagine. How we ask frames our expectations. The sorts of questions we pose determine the limits of our thinking. When we ask the right questions, we get the right answers; with the right questions, we expand our thinking and with expanded thinking, we broader horizons.
There are many trite and hackneyed sayings about imagination: “All things are possible to those who believe.” — “What the mind can conceive, it can achieve.” The thing about the trite and the hackneyed, however, is that it’s true; we say these things again and again because we recognize their validity. Just consider what human imagination has wrought: humankind has gone to the moon; heavier-than-air contraptions carry human beings through the sky at supersonic speeds; kidneys, lungs, hearts, hands, and faces have been transplanted from one body to another; we carry small light-weight devices with which we can access all the knowledge human beings have ever accumulated. These things were the stuff of science fiction not too long ago; they are now science fact.
So why is our imagination so limited when it comes to the future of the church? In our spiritual and religious life we should be even more imaginative. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7) Ask anything you like, said Jesus. Tell trees to be uprooted! Cause mountains to be thrown into the sea! For God’s sake, use your imagination! We are made, the Genesis story tells us, in the image of God. The novelist Henry Miller once wrote, “Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything godlike about God, it is that. He dared to imagine everything.” If there is anything godlike about us, it is that we have that same voice of daring. “Use it,” is the command of our Lord.
God is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine. The funny thing is, so are we.
A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.